The Chronic Edema

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A photo of a person with extremely swollen lower legs.
Elephantiasis (chronic edema) of the legs due to filariasis. (credit: modification of work by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

OpenStax Microbiology

In addition to granulomas, chronic inflammation can also result in long-term edema. A condition known as lymphatic filariasis (also known as elephantiasis) provides an extreme example. Lymphatic filariasis is caused by microscopic nematodes (parasitic worms) whose larvae are transmitted between human hosts by mosquitoes. Adult worms live in the lymphatic vessels, where their presence stimulates infiltration by lymphocytes, plasma cells, eosinophils, and thrombocytes (a condition known as lymphangitis). Because of the chronic nature of the illness, granulomas, fibrosis, and blocking of the lymphatic system may eventually occur. Over time, these blockages may worsen with repeated infections over decades, leading to skin thickened with edema and fibrosis. Lymph (extracellular tissue fluid) may spill out of the lymphatic areas and back into tissues, causing extreme swelling. Secondary bacterial infections commonly follow. Because it is a disease caused by a parasite, eosinophilia (a dramatic rise in the number of eosinophils in the blood) is characteristic of acute infection. However, this increase in antiparasite granulocytes is not sufficient to clear the infection in many cases.

Lymphatic filariasis affects an estimated 120 million people worldwide, mostly concentrated in Africa and Asia. Improved sanitation and mosquito control can reduce transmission rates.


Parker, N., Schneegurt, M., Thi Tu, A.-H., Forster, B. M., & Lister, P. (n.d.). Microbiology. Houston, Texas: OpenStax. Access for free at: